US Deputy Homeland Security Secretary: US-Israel to sign automated cyber information sharing agreement

The new agreement will qualitatively take the speed of sharing to an entirely different level, said the deputy secretary.

June 20, 2016 20:27
3 minute read.
C4i Branch's Cyber Control Center

C4i Branch's Cyber Control Center. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)

The US and Israel will sign a new agreement to automate their sharing of cyber data, US Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas announced Monday at a cyber conference at Tel Aviv University.

Although the US and Israel have closely shared cyber information and signed several agreements in the past, the new agreement will qualitatively take the speed of sharing to an entirely different level, the deputy secretary told The Jerusalem Post after his address.

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During a time when the types of cyber attacks hackers are using are constantly evolving, the speed at which governments share hacking experiences can make the difference between helping an ally avoid being hacked or the helpful data arriving too late, Mayorkas said.

Mayorkas, who worked on a kibbutz 39 years ago, also referred repeatedly to strong US relations with Israel.

Maj.-Gen. (res.) Isaac Ben-Israel, the head of the university’s cyber department, echoed Mayorkas on the importance of faster data sharing, saying “[we] are always collecting data from cyber attacks and the data about the attacks is on our computers, but sometimes we see it too late.”

Israel, he said is developing new technologies using a much larger data set, which hopefully will operate fast enough to prepare for and defend against the next threat.

While bank robbers must work hard to rob a second location after robbing one bank, he continued, cyber hackers “can snap their fingers and replicate” their attacks on others unless countries share information fast enough to protect against replication.

One feature of the new agreement will be the nearly instantaneous transfer of information, Mayorkas said, which will preserve confidentiality and privacy.

He explained that the “nearly” part was a very fast vetting and stripping of data that could lead to infringement of privacy rights, usually by a computer, but reaching a higher level of complexity than by a homeland security agent.

In parallel, he said a 2014 Congressional law has guaranteed anonymity, liability protection and confidentiality to American companies that share their experiences of being hacked with the US government.

Mayorkas said the Homeland Security Department has a strong culture of commitment to privacy, one of the reasons it was put in charge of overall cyber security issues.

Similarly, Ben-Israel said Israel had appointed Buky Carmeli to run a new National Cyber Security Authority to better address privacy concerns by separating cyber intelligence from other aspects of cyber security.

Mayorkas, meanwhile, cited the success of the US-China joint September pledge to avoid certain cyber-hacking activities. In April, Vice-Adm.

James D. Syring chief of the US Missile Defense Agency reiterated that China is trying to hack US missile defenses after the US accused it of other violations of the deal.

“We are pleased with the agreement, we are watching carefully, they are complying with critical norms… not to say that we condone hacking into our defense systems,” but he made the point that the pledge was only not to engage in commercial hacking.

Weighing his words carefully, he said: “We are trying to achieve progress where we can… there is a big improvement in the private sector… we are not declaring victory, we are seeing positive signs.”

Asked about whether the US had developed any way to deter major Chinese hacking attacks, Mayorkas said he “cannot predict compliance” and said the US is trying to “engage” China on the issue, while “the notion of retribution in the cyber arena is still being built… and is at an early stage.”

Ben-Israel noted that the Obama administration has said a serious cyber attack could be met with force beyond just a cyber counterattack.

He also pointed out that “Russia is a bigger threat” than China, saying: “The Chinese just get caught more than the Russians.”

He then related that Russia is known for having succeeded with the first predecessor of today’s cyber attacks back in 1986.

Mayorkas would not comment on April reports about US officials admitting to dropping a cyber bomb on Islamic State in which implanted viruses directed ISIS forces into drone and other ambushes.

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